For almost half of their 54 years of marriage, Paul and Juanita Gagne have battled against his heart disease.
Twenty-five years ago, Paul Gagne, 77, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle. Last year, he received a type of mechanical heart support called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to assist with his heart condition.
No one sets out to hurt their heart. But some habits can add up over time, taking their toll.
You can't control things like your family history, or aging. But you have more power than you may think.
"There’s a lot of reason to believe you can trump your family history or promote a healthier, longer life if you focus as early as possible on the risk factors you can control,” says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
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As his primary caregiver, his wife Juanita, 75, performs a daily sterile dressing change where the LVAD line comes out from his abdomen. She does most of the cooking to follow a low-salt and low-fat diet, reminds him to take his medications, and goes to doctor’s appointments with him.
“I’m just happy to do it and that I still have him. You have to know in your mind that this is something you want to do, and set yourself to it,” says Juanita, a Grandview, Mo., resident.
Doctors play an important role in guiding patients and caregivers on how to manage heart disease. WebMD spoke with two cardiologists about tips and advice they offer to caregivers on how to take care of someone with heart problems.
Paul’s doctor, Tracy Stevens, MD, a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute in Kansas City, Mo., recommends a general guideline of one protein and two colors -- fruits or vegetables -- for each meal. It keeps patients away from french fries, chips, and cheese, she says. Her other tips include:
Meet with a dietitian to design a customized plan that fits your particular heart condition.